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THE MAKING 

OF 

A MODERN MUSEUM 



BY 



ELEANOR G. HEWITT 




WRITTEN FOR 

THE WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON CLUB 

1919 



First Printing 1919 
Second Printing 1922 
Third Printing 1926 



THE MAKING 

OF 

A MODERN MUSEUM 

BY 

ELEANOR G. HEWITT 



WRITTEN FOR 

THE WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON CLUB 
1919 



C\-iKr\ 



FOREWORD 

XN 1919 the Wednesday Afternoon Club asked my 
sister, Eleanor Garnier Hewitt, one of its members, to 
write a paper on "The Making of a Modern Museum," 
which they found so interesting that they paid her the un- 
usual compliment of printing it privately for her fellow- 
members. 

As many others were desirous to read it, the Club kindly 
consented to the publication of a second edition, which is 
also exhausted. 

The demand for it still continues, so this third edition 
is now issued as a small tribute to the memory of my sister, 
who devoted all her talents and the greater part of her time 
to create and develop the Museum for the Arts of Decora- 
tion, which was inaugurated at Cooper Union in 1895 in 
honor of its Founder, Peter Cooper, in order to complete 
the work he originally planned. 

SARAH COOPER HEWITT. 



THE MAKING OF A MODERN MUSEUM 
By Eleanor G. Hewitt. 



Written for the Wednesday Afternoon Club. 



ONE of the most modern of Museums really originated 
centuries ago, and such diverse and irrelevant events 
as religious controversies, fires, escapes, wars, poverty 
and romance, steam engines and miracles contributed to mak- 
ing it inevitable. 

The dissensions of the Royalists and Covenanters have 
no apparent connection with the matter in hand, but they 
drove the Cooper family to the colonies so early in the his- 
tory, that one son was the fourth white man-child born in 
Dutchess County. His descendants later on conducted a 
prosperous tile making and pottery business on the present 
site of Saint Paul's Church, only to lose it when the Hes- 
sian troops occupied New York. Having fled again, this 
time in a farm wagon with such few household goods as 
they could contrive to load upon it, the family later returned 
to the city, and to poverty, and once more for a fresh start. 

Peter Cooper, who was born in 1781, began his uphill 
struggle at such an early age, that in spite of his marked 
ability, he could only spare the time for six weeks' schooling. 
This, combined with his early trials and subsequent suc- 
cesses, soon gave him the inspiration that it was his duty 
to place within the reach of others similarly situated, the 
means of acquiring suitable and practical educations to ad- 
vance them in their chosen careers. 

The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the chief cause 
of the industrial and artistic revival of the world, incidentally 
sent the ancestors of Mrs. Peter Cooper via Holland to 
America, and young Isaac Gamier, one of whose descend- 
ants married into the Hewitt family, was floated out to sea 

[3] 



in a barrel from La Rochellc and picked up by a sailing ves- 
sel bound for the New World. (There is still a street in 
La Rochelle called Gamier.) 

As religious controversies were responsible for both the 
Cooper and Gamier families going to America, the steam 
engine was responsible for coming from England, in 
1796, of the talented young mechanic and pattern maker, 
John Hewitt, who already held his first-class certificate as a 
cabinet maker. 

James Watt, the inventor, confided the setting up of the 
first stationary steam engine at Soho on the Second River, 
New Jersey, to this upright young man, since in those days 
it was harder even to find upright men than now, and skilled 
mechanics as soon as they were trained were usually bribed 
away by rival and less able inventors from the firm of 
Boulton and Watt, who had instructed them. 

John Hewitt's romantic marriage with the beautiful 
descendant of Isaac Gamier, of Haverstraw, kept him from 
returning to England, so he began a prosperous furniture 
business in New York, where his work rivalled that of 
Duncan Phyfe, though it is not known in the North, as 
his finest pieces were always purchased by the wealthy con- 
noisseurs of Charleston, Mobile, Savannah, and New 
Orleans. 

The total destruction of this -business by fire drove him 
and his family, this time in a Gamier farm wagon sent by 
their relatives to fetch them, back to the log cabin and a 
few acres near Haverstraw, Mrs. Hewitt's sole inheritance. 
Here Abram S. Hewitt was born, and as he grew, it be- 
came his ambition to keep his mother from enduring in her 
old age, as she had endured throughout his youth, hardships 
more severe than any known in modern times. This ambi- 
tion added to his eagerness to obtain the education war- 
ranted by his brilliant abilities. He succeeded by means of 
unparallelled effort, and later supplemented and perfected the 
wonderful work of Peter Cooper, thus fulfilling a decree of 

[4] 



Destiny, that a second man should come forward to com- 
plete the work of the j&rst. 

Peter Cooper was really a hundred years in advance of 
his times. The only Museums of his day were those of 
Barnum and Woods, and one or two other very small places, 
which all exhibited natural phenomena and curiosities, but 
Mr. Cooper, while planning his great building for "educa- 
tion and recreation," arranged for one whole floor to be 
used as a Museum for the exhibition of mechanical devices 
and for a Cosmorama, for the pleasure, instruction and 
enjoyment of all who could not visit foreign lands. 

The assembling of the necessary objects for this Museum 
was delayed, as the funds were insufficient, and all the pecu- 
niary resources he had were soon swallowed up by the crying 
demands for scientific and artistic education, so the reserva- 
tion even of a small space for the Museum became impossible 
of attainment. Necessarily the project was laid aside, but 
never definitely abandoned. 

What follows only shows the curious weaving of the 
web of Fate, where artistic and mechanical tradition appear 
to have accomplished a foreordained result. 

While the Cooper Union was trying to fulfill the colossal 
educational demands of the public, two little girls with pig- 
tails tightly braided, whose old-fashioned plaid dresses had 
been cut out and made by their mother on the first Wheeler 
^ Wilson sewing machine, were being taken regularly by 
their father to all places where objects of art were exhibited 
before their sale at auction. (A letter from Richard Cobden 
thanks Mrs. Hewitt for two babies' dresses, entirely made 
by her on the sewing machine, saying the ladies of England 
could not believe such beautiful work could be done by a 
lady, entirely on a machine.) 

Mr. Hewitt, frail, intellectual, and overworked, who was 
always giving of his best in the service of the community 
and of humanity, must have felt it an imperative duty to 



[51 



place such interests in his children's minds when the daily 
life of that day was so utterly different. 

New York then offered little in the way of artistic mani- 
festations, though every year there was an appalling mechani- 
cal exhibition at the American Institute, at Third Avenue 
and 63d Street, where art was represented by a female fig- 
ure modelled in butter by a woman sculptress; but there 
was no incentive or demand for anything better. The 
prosperous merchants then composing the purchasing public 
had few dreams beyond the charms of the tormented and 
over-decorated hardwood trims and atrocities of the degen- 
erate furniture and ceramic forms of the English Gothic 
revival and the Third Empire. There were, however, some 
few picture galleries in private houses, most of them filled 
with black old Italian saints and sinners, which arrived in 
sailing ships and were sold on the wharves as they were 
landed as genuine "old masters." 

French ancestry had given Abram S. Hewitt innate love 
of art, and true discrimination. This had been accentuated 
by his good fortune early in life of his study of the Crystal 
Palace Exhibition of 1851, which was the first step in the 
industrial and artistic revival of England, and also in being 
American Commissioner at the great Paris Exposition of 
1855. The Ecole Poly technique of Paris, and the Royal 
Society of England had aroused all the keenest intellectual 
fibres of his soul. He regarded them as the lode stars of 
the work of the world. A leader in the iron trade, he was 
in the forefront of every industrial improvement, and as 
iron and steel are the foundation of the prosperity of nations, 
he never failed to bring to America every new development, 
among which were the Sieman's-Martin open hearth and 
Bessemer processes, and for which both he and Mr. Peter 
Cooper, the only Americans who ever received it, were 
awarded the Bessemer Gold Medal, the highest and most 
coveted distinction which can be obtained by Iron Masters. 



[6 



As a young man, Mr. Hewitt walked all over Europe, 
poverty making it possible for him to select this best and 
most entrancing of all forms of travel. His wonderful 
knowledge of the Classics enabled him to enjoy Greece by 
speaking ancient Greek, and Germany, the Tyrol, Austria, 
and Italy, where, speaking Latin together, he and an Italian 
priest made a long walking tour with this as their only 
means of communication. In this way he was enabled to 
gratify his burning desire to cultivate himself in all the arts, 
to study and familiarize himself with the systems of the 
greatest universities and scientific bodies, so wisely planned 
in Europe. Such journeys served to crystallize his wish to 
give the youth of America the best and most legitimate oppor- 
tunities to study and to achieve. 

With his marriage to the daughter of Peter Cooper came 
the great opportunity of his life, and he threw himself, 
heart and soul, with singleness of purpose and true devo- 
tion, into the work of another man, to raise the standard 
of the Cooper Union so high that it should always maintain 
its leadership in educational matters and stand in the fore- 
front as the starting point and inspiration for thousands of 
scientific, mechanical, artistic, and industrial careers. 

As has already been said, one of the ways he devised for 
awakening and cultivating the minds of his children, was 
taking them to exhibitions. It was at great personal self 
sacrifice and loss of much valuable time, for his occupations 
were many and his means slender. (As a matter of fact, 
he had waited seven years before he could afford to marry.) 
To give his children pleasure and occupation, he placed within 
their reach in his personal library (which as an honor and 
special privilege they were permitted the run of) , delightful 
histories and historic fiction to fill their minds with the man- 
ners and customs of olden times and countries. There were 
many years of the "Illustrated London News" with wood- 
cuts of the London and Paris Expositions, which having 
seen, he could charm into life for them; the "London 

[7] 



Graphic" showing the work of all the world; Nash's 
"England," the realistic setting for so many of the great 
names of history; "Polychromatic Ornament," "The Win- 
ter's Tale" and "Joseph and His Brethren," by Owen Jones, 
were the pleasent entering wedge for arousing interest in 
design. The reproduction of the "Rosetta Stone," "Wilkin- 
son's Egypt," Rawlinson's "Five Ancient Monarchies" and 
an "Illustrated Encyclopaedia" brought many ages and lands 
within range of their vision. Bryant's "Iliad" and 
"Odyssey," Flaxman's wonderful illustrations, Lempriere's 
"Classical Dictionary," Hawthorne and Bulfinch, the Wa- 
verly Edition of Walter Scott, with its accurate steel engrav- 
ings of costume, accessories and interiors; twenty-four vol- 
umes of "Versailles and Its Galleries," the "Travels of Paul 
du Chaillu" and Baker in Africa; G. P. R. James, which' 
they knew by heart, Kingsley, Bulwer Lytton, Disraeli, Jane 
Austen, Marryat, "The Cloister and the Hearth," "Brake- 
speare," etc., etc. 

Such a list seems primitive as well as curious now, when 
one has only to choose among the wealth of specialistic pub- 
lications; but then the field of such literature, particularly 
anything of an artistic nature, was circumscribed, and suit- 
able memoirs only appeared much later. Nevertheless, these 
books then formed, and would form now, a suitable back- 
ground for all later study of art and ornamentation, especially 
when supplemented by Sismondi, Symonds, Burckhardt and 
a few others. At any rate such reading placed the children 
in a position to obtain instruction from each new thing they 
could observe. 

The vagaries of Fate are curious. These young people 
who were among the pioneers as women sports in riding, 
driving, hunting and skating, who loved horses and dogs, 
games, etc., and had imported the first game of lawn tennis 
from England, were still under sixteen, when with pocket 
money they might have spent for such amusements, they 
solemnly purchased at auction, purely for their own pleas- 

[8] 



ure, half of the Jervis Collection of Textiles, ranging in date 
from the 1 2th to the 1 6th century, having an intuition that, 
as they could not afford all, the earlier portion would pos- 
sess greater technical and artistic value than the 17th and 
18 th century part. Museums were far from their thoughts, 
since they had never seen one, but yet this purchase was the 
initial step, since it now forms a valuable addition to the 
superb collection presented by Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan to the 
Cooper Union Museum. 

Love of beautiful and exquisite workmanship was an in- 
heritance from two practical and artistic grandfathers who 
were master workmen and master mechanics and craftsmen. 
It produced also a natural interest in the arts of decoration, 
which necessarily remained rather restricted until the grand- 
children went to Europe. Before that it was only by put- 
ting two and two together and talking with the few art 
dealers into whose shops they went, that even the rudiments 
of the knowledge they sought, could be acquired. (The late 
Henry Duveen started just then in a cellar in John Street, 
where he made his first sale to Miss Hewitt, who had been 
taken there by Miss Adelia Cooper, and was fascinated by 
an enamel watch.) 

The bric-a-brac trade was then in its infancy in New 
York, with only Marly (later Sypher) and a few others. 
The auction rooms were Leavitt's, and later the American 
Art Association. Years afterward they were able to add to 
their education by talking with dealers in London and Paris, 
and with collectors, such as Messieurs Bonaffe, and Eudel, 
Messrs. Morrison, Alma Tadema, Sir Frederick Leighton, and 
visiting the Westminster and Rothschild collections; the 
South Kensington, Louvre, Versailles and Garde Meuble 
Museums, and, best of all, Fontainebleau, which is the com- 
plete epitome of the history and evolution of the decorative 
styles in France. 

The opening of the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in the 
Palais de 1' Industrie, with its succursal library in the historic 

[91 



Place des Vosges, was a perennial source of joy, and brought 
about an acquaintance and talks with the founders, Mes- 
sieurs Alfred de Champeaux, Maciet, Berger and others. The 
girls' interest was intense in hearing first hand accounts of 
the difficulties in the way of making this Paris Museum of 
service to the public, for European artist artisans jealously 
kept tradition and inspiration alive from father to son, and 
did not feel the need of it; moreover there were models on 
every side, even in the streets, also learned dilettanti and pur- 
chasers, severe in their demands kept up the standards. But 
such accounts only served to arouse the strong hereditary 
desire to place similar facilities within the reach of American 
artisans, and the difficulties appeared as easy to be brushed 
aside as cobwebs. 

In Europe, the pressure of mechanical and industrial 
development had not then been felt to any great extent, and 
people educated each other through their innate love of criti- 
cism and the habit of discussing every object of art; so when 
the tormented Directors of the Paris Museum, who were 
trying to bring its importance and usefulness to the attention 
of the critics, hoping for favorable notice, had succeeded in 
collecting a large number of workmen in blouses on a given 
day, to make an impressive spectacle, their hopes were dashed 
by the remark of De Goncourt, that their company was 
"Nombreux, mais peu choisis." 

Now here is where the miracles begin and mix with 
irrevocable Fate. 

A substantial anonymous gift permitted the Cooper 
Union to free the space which it had previously been obliged 
to rent for income. 

Quite ignorant of the immensity of the task they so 
calmly undertook, the girls, whose pigtails by that time 
were coiled around their heads, asked for room in which to 
install a Museum for the Arts of Decoration similar to the 
one in Paris, for the use of t;he Cooper Union Art Classes in 
connection with the courses of instruction. The Trustees, 

[ 10] 



recalling the fact that Peter Cooper had designed one floor 
in his original plan for a Museum, assented. Delightfully, 
if pathetically innocent and supremely hopeful, it seemed 
so easy of accomplishment, when willingness, the power of 
work and of spending their own pocket money, appeared 
to be all that was required. 

With such absurdly limited means, they immediately 
began the opening of an easier road to knowledge than the 
one they had so laboriously travelled. Tradition and in- 
herited hardship in acquiring education gave added eagerness 
to facilitate its free acquirement for others. America was 
entering a new era, and the Museum so inaugurated, and 
opened in May, 1895, was the pioneer blazing the trail. 

The Directors of the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, singu- 
larly broad-minded, and perhaps secretly amused at the youth 
and inexperience of their collaborators, were generous of 
thought and time. They personally selected a complete 
series of decorative casts of the best French periods and styles 
by the greatest Masters of Ornament, which have since formed 
the nucleus and backbone, and given the historical sequence 
to all the later collections. This magnificent and initial gift, 
the first of many marvels, was presented to start the Museum 
by Mr. and Mrs. Hewitt. 

Then came a wonderful series of happenings. Manu- 
facturers and dealers came forward with, unsolicited help; 
Chatel and Tassinari of Paris, successors to the great 18th 
century firm which had woven the masterpieces of Philippe 
de la Salle for the bedrooms of Louis XVI and Marie 
Antoinette at Fontainebleau ; Worth, Franck and many other 
well-known firms gave objects suitable to make small exhibits 
covering the various branches of the textile and ornamental 
trades, while the immediate family was laid under heavy 
contribution. Poor Mrs. Hewitt suffered the most, and as 
she looked about her devastated home, would often say, 
"I wonder where that is?" pointing to an empty space; or, 

[ 11 1 



when visiting the Museum, "Didn't I once have something 
like that?" thinking she recognized some cherished object. 

When everything is a miracle, no one step appears 
unusual, and each unhoped for and unexpected happening 
seemed absolutely natural, and served to add impulse to the 
hopes of the founders, who were trying to create a practical 
working laboratory in memory of their beloved grandfather. 

Each year, the superb and princely gift from Mr. Thomas 
Snell, of all the necessary painting of walls and woodwork, 
so worn and old from the constant use of classes, has kept 
the Museum always fresh and attractive, and every year he 
sends his receipted bill, together with generous gifts of money 
to expend. 

Soon after it was opened, a prominent and public 
spirited citizen came to see what this new Museum was. 
No one had asked him, but his wife and Mrs. Hewitt had 
been at school together. In response to his request, the 
girls went to his o^ce in his shop and were startled by his 
quick remark: "You have undertaken far more than you 
know, but I am going to help you." He was better than his 
word throughout the remainder of his life, both with gifts 
of wonderfully suitable objects, and generous gifts of money 
brought each year by Santa Claus. Contrary to his usual 
custom, he made no conditions as to its expenditure. His 
interest brought luck, for the rule of his life was never to 
have anything to do with the unlucky. These large sums, 
given so freely by Mr. George A. Hearn at a time when 
such objects were still procurable, purchased wonderful 
things and rapidly placed the Museum in a position as to 
quality and standard that attracted the help of others. It 
soon contained sufficient of interest to bring also unpaid in- 
tellectual help. For the sake of the knowledge to be acquired 
in studying sufficiently to be able to write the labels and 
arrange the objects, such kind friends felt they were repaid 
a thousandfold for anything they did. 

[ 12] 



Had it not been for their initial poverty, perhaps the 
Directors would never have been in a position to recognize 
the priceless value of this amateur help. The intellectual 
aid offered by educated minds, not just to fill unoccupied 
hours, but from pure delight and interest in the subject, can 
never be equalled by the paid services of even the high-class 
assistant. New points of view have brought new arrange- 
ments. If the educated mind has met with difficulties, these 
difficulties have the more easily been swept from the path of 
the ignorant. 

Some Fairy Godmother must have been working over- 
time waving her wand, for both strangers and acquaintances 
continually sent gifts, also sums of money, both large and 
small, to spend, and Good Fortune, ever in the ascendant, 
has made circumstances as far apart as the poles contribute 
to the growth and useful power of this baby Museum. 

It became known that Signor Piancastelli, Curator of 
the Borghese Gallery in Rome, had decided to dispose of his 
collection, consisting of four thousand drawings of the 17th 
and 18 th centuries, including the sketch books of several 
Italian artists who have traveled all over Italy, noting the 
great ornamental exterior and interior decorations, as well 
as designs for the ornament of every trade. There were also 
hundreds of original designs for schemes of decoration for 
every branch of the ornamental arts. The purchase price 
of four thousand dollars was contributed, as if by magic, 
by friends of the Museum. Messrs. Munroe ^ Company, 
of New York and Paris, one of the oldest established bank- 
ing houses, and a most public-spirited firm, voluntarily con- 
ducted all the negotiations, including correspondence, busi- 
ness arrangements, packing, shipping, etc., in order to facili- 
tate bringing this wonderful collection to America. One 
very curious thing happened, showing that our country was 
somewhat behind, instead of ahead of the times, as we are 
so prone to think. Although allowed by law to enter free 
of duty, since the collection was for a public institution, it 

[13] 



could not pass the Custom House, for there was no provision 
in the United States tariff for artists' original drawings; 
the only ones specified being mechanical drawings. So Mr. 
Hewitt was obliged to go to Washington to ask the State 
Department to formulate a special clause covering the entry 
of original drawings by artists. 

Chance brought about a meeting of Mr. Pierpont Mor- 
gan and Mr. Hewitt at a men's dinner. The former asked 
in his usual abrupt, impulsive way, what Mr. Hewitt's 
daughters were interested in. The reply that they were 
negotiating the purchase of the unique Badia Collection of 
Textiles, then for sale in Barcelona, brought out the unex- 
pected request that all the papers relating to it should be 
sent him that night, as he was sailing for Europe the next 
day. So, fresh from the typewriter, with hasty penned correc- 
tions, he received the rough notes. It may have been their in- 
tense quality that interested him, but this is what happened: 
A few weeks later a cable arrived, which read: "Have pur- 
chased the Badia Collection of Barcelona, also the Vives 
Collection of Madrid, and the Stanislas Baron Collection 
of Paris. I do this to give your daughters pleasure." So, 
in one instant, the Cooper Union Museum jumped to the 
rank of the South Kensington Museum as to textiles, and 
even has six pieces that do not exist in the superb Berlin 
Museum. 

One would hardly think that a small family luncheon 
at the table of the Marquis de Breteuil in Paris would 
lead to the most wonderful acquisitions that have ever come 
to this country. Mr. Leon Decloux, an architect decorator, 
retired from his profession, whose taste and judgment are 
considered supreme in Paris, was asked to meet the ladies. 
Mutual interest led to friendship, and with the marked 
sympathy of the French nation, in regard to matters of 
art, he was particularly delighted with such a practical 
attempt to familiarize American artist artisans with the finest 
forms of French decorative art, and also with the plan of 

[14] 



facilitating the use of the models and objects instead of hold- 
ing them to be too precious to be of any real service. He 
was specifically and delightfully down on the whole pro- 
fession of Museum Curators, having two in his own family. 
Much struck with the idea of having the Museum for the 
use of the community and not for the sole delight of the 
Curator, he found the attempt of two women to make one 
very diverting, and, "just to give them pleasure also," in- 
vited them to his villa at Sevres to see his "boiseries" porce- 
lains, ironwork, glass, wonderful furniture and bibelots of all 
kinds, for during his long life and owing to his profession, 
his opportunities had been great, especially at a time when 
interest in this class of beautiful things was very vague, even 
in Paris. He had no idea of disposing of his collections, since 
(like Jacques Doucet, who would not let Mr. Morgan see 
his beautiful home for fear he would offer to purchase, and 
such a high price be offered that there would be no justifica- 
tion in not selling) , but he gladly undertook to expend the 
small sums the ladies could send, and give all the inestimable 
advantage of his taste and knowledge. The objects he pro- 
cured for such moderate amounts soon placed the Museum in 
the first rank, and later he ceded to it many of his price- 
less treasures. 

Sometimes, with true spirit of adventure, important 
objects and collections were purchased, even when there was 
no money to pay, but still Good Fortune, or the Good 
Fairy, continued their self-appointed duties. A collection of 
rare old French porcelains and faiences, Mennegy, Chantilly, 
Sevres, Rouen, Vincennes, etc., unpaid for, had actually ar- 
rived in the Custom House. By the mail that brought the 
notice, came a letter containing a check, which by accident 
was the precise amount of the payment. An old New Yorker, 
at that time unknown to the Directors, wrote charmingly 
that her interest was great and she wished to help. In 
thanking Mrs. Trevor, she was asked if she cared to have 
the money expended for anything of a special nature. Her 

[15] 



answer, "Oh, I always like old porcelains best," created a 
tableau. 

Another charming New Yorker asked to be shown the 
Museum. The Directors passed a delightful morning with 
her. When about to leave she drew from her muff an 
envelope, saying she wished to make a Memorial to her 
Mother, but did not wish her name mentioned for some 
years. 

Mrs. William Tilden Blodgett, who had shared her hus- 
band's love and knowledge of art (he had formed the earliest 
and most superb gallery of pictures which contained some 
chef d'ceuvres of 18th century, English and French art), had 
been one of the most public-spirited women of her day and 
had started many successful societies to help women earn 
their living, which at that time was not easy to accomplish. 

Miss Eleanor Blodgett said she knew her Mother would 
have considered it a great privilege and high honor to have 
her name connected with the Cooper Union. The cheque 
was for ten thousand dollars, and the possession of such a 
large sum of money laid the financial foundation which 
made the purchase of the Decloux Collection of drawings an 
absolute certainty. 

Since then several other Memorial Funds have been given 
to use the principal in making purchases, and such untram- 
melled gifts have placed the Directors in a position to enlarge 
the scope of the Museum when opportunities occurred to 
secure art objects of unusual interest, value and beauty. 

Among other splendid reasons for the quick advancement 
of the Museum the thoughtful and generous gift of Mr. Jacob 
H. Schiff and Mr. Thomas Snell have their place. Each 
time the ladies went to Europe these gentlemen sent large 
checks to buy the best that could be found in the way of 
fine things to enhance the beauty and working qualities of 
the Museum. 

Owing to its restricted space, the Museum must make 
a general rule not to accept nor exhibit objects later than 

[ 16] 



the first quarter of the 19th century; but it gladly accepts 
one class of objects most essentially modern. Mr. Cooper 
wished the walls of the corridors and staircases lined with 
things of interest for those going up and down. As quickly 
as they can be acquired, leaves from the note and sketch 
books of artists of the last half of the 19th century, and of 
the present day, are being placed there. Distinguished men, 
namely, Frederick E. Church, Winslow Homer, Robert 
Blum, many other Americans, also English and Frenchmen, 
are already represented. The first conception of numerous 
well-known pictures, perhaps jotted down merely on an 
envelope, box cover, or chance scrap of paper, are there to 
inspire and illuminate students and laymen. 

By means of such sketches it becomes a privilege to see 
what these talented men saw all over the world with the 
argus eyes of artists, so sensitive to impressions of beauty, 
form, color, light and shade. The value is beyond words, 
and not one atom of the work of an artist should ever be 
destroyed since the study of the change of style, manner, 
technique and character of work and composition from youth 
to age, often adds valuable instruction, higher inspiration 
and more lofty conception to the years of student work. 

A great power in building up the Museum is the privi- 
lege of expending the income of the fund of five thousand 
dollars given to the Cooper Union by the late Mrs. Robert 
Stuart for the purchase of art books. Through it, the Ref- 
erence Library is rich in standard books and richer still in 
rare books, and the remarkable series of ancient and modern 
illustrated books are priceless for study. 

The fame of the Encyclopaedic Scrap Books, begun over 
twenty-five years ago, now numbering over one thousand 
volumes, has recently reached as far as Boston, and only 
the other day a Head of Department of the Boston Public 
Library actually came on in person to see what it could be, 
for what use, and how arranged. He seemed overcome by 
its practical instructive value, and at the fact that both rare 

[ 171 



and expensive books had been taken apart and remade in a 
new order to render them more available for study. He 
was astonished at the large number of illustrated children's 
books of every age and country, and at the fact of their 
being constantly consulted for costume and for decorative 
and color schemes. 

The Chart prepared by the learned Directors of the 
Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, has been of infinite help in 
arranging these Scrap Books. But, "over there" people begin 
with more knowledge. Therefore the arrangement of the 
Chart has necessarily been revised and the books built up 
from the simplest alphabetical, chronological and geographi- 
cal arrangement. 

Wonders produce wonders. For years, a friend fre- 
quently spoke of the work as too extensive for the founders 
and wished to form a council to give financial assistance. The 
Directors refused for three years, making the point that the 
Museum had not as yet proved itself of sufficient value to 
the public to warrant the investment in it of large sums by 
other people. Finally, in pure vexation, he said: "Well, I 
don't care what you think; I will form the Council to give 
you money to spend." Seeing that Good Luck was not to 
be denied, the Directors insisted on a Committee of Artists 
to control their recommendations for expenditure. 

With munificence past belief, the Council has facili- 
tated the purchase of hundreds of unique objects, excelling 
in beauty of design and of exquisite workmanship; the com- 
mercial value has increased many hundredfold, and being 
easy of access to work from, they have been fruitful sources 
of inspiration and in constant use by artist artisans. The 
latest and crowning gift of the Council, superb in being the 
finest and most extensive one known, was the Decloux Col- 
lection; four hundred and fifty original drawings by the 
great "Maitres Ornemanistes," designs created for all the 
ornament and accessories of palaces and of the hotels and 
chateaux of the great financiers, to be used by the artist 

[ 18] 



artisans who worked out the creations of the masters. These 
drawings were considered so fine in the day of their mak- 
ing, that the best engravers reproduced them, and so they 
became known to connoisseurs the world over. No other 
such collection exists, and the Cooper Union is the proud 
custodian. 

From this description of the making of this Museum, 
it is evident that it could not avoid being run on lines widely 
different from those controlling other Museums; and is an 
amply sufficient reason for the modernism of its use. Restric- 
tions are eliminated, except the few necessary to protect 
the objects; the salient point is, that the objects are there 
for use, to be worked from, and, if so desired, to be removed 
from their positions and placed in any light. They can 
be photographed or measured (a tape line, not a ruler, must 
be used) , and no squeezes or impressions taken. Naturally 
constant use will have a tendency to damage, even destroy 
certain objects (many of course, are indestructible) , but 
irreparable damage could not be accomplished under a hun- 
dred years, and if in that time an artistic tradition passed 
on from father to son, as in Europe has been created, the 
existence or non-existence of these objects will not seriously 
matter, and during all that time the Museum will have been 
fulfilling its destiny. 

With another end in view, which is, that people come 
to this Museum to learn, its objects have been arranged 
chronologically from earliest to latest, and from left to right, 
just as a book is written, so that artistic work of many trades 
and countries at the same period is placed in juxtaposition, 
to form a practical basis for technical instruction, for ambu- 
lant lectures and class work. 

The arrangement of the Museum in small sections and 
with a mass of objects in each is open to some objection, 
but it does invite much comparison and discussion as to 
material, workmanship and design, and gives an insight into 
the artistic work of each epoch all over the world; possibly 

[19] 



it may in the end bring about the same habit of criticism and 
discussion that exists in France. 

The entrance of this Museum is the most modern of 
all; it is the main work room and laboratory, in contrast 
to the great hall of most Museums, delightful with empty 
spaciousness and with a few superlatively fine objects beauti- 
fully and singly displayed. At once on entering, the inspira- 
tion of the happy busy atmosphere starts an electric current 
of sympathy. No explanation seems necessary about the 
quantity and massing of the objects; there is no feeling of 
confusion, since each one, or all, are there for immediate use. 
The artistic values of the masterpieces are accentuated by 
the others not quite so exquisite, and they stand out as if 
they were jewels. Such massing of objects becomes legiti- 
mate at once. The literary aids of hundreds of Reference 
and Scrap Books, and of Art Periodicals placed on tables 
with no hampering restrictions as to their use, puts every 
resource at the service of the public. 

Confusion, if it exists at all, only exists in the un- 
trained mind of the onlooker. For the worker, the source 
of inspiration is frequently found in the sight of an unex- 
pected object, possibly one of an entirely different trade. 

More modern than all else in the use of Museums is 
the fact, that all work, canvases, objects, etc., may be left 
out at the owner's risk in the Museum at the close of the 
day. Every hour and minute that the Museum is open, 
are working hours and minutes; the worker may be ready 
to enter at the instant of opening, and not be disturbed until 
closing time; there are no ten or fifteen minutes' notice to be 
out, nor the well-known bell, nor the loud words, "on 
ferme." 

The management never loses sight of the fact that the 
first delightful and wonderful frenzy for work, so well 
known to artistic temperaments, is easily dashed and cooled 
by uncongenial influences, petty annoyances and delays, and 
that those who obtain the greatest benefit from working in 

[20] 



Museums are frequently ill fed and badly clothed, and the 
loss of vitality in getting out, carrying to and from the 
lockers the canvases, easels and materials, frequently militates 
against the quality and output of the work. The short 
hours allotted in other Museums are unknown here, and 
that this special lack of restriction is a 'valuable asset seems 
obvious since certain objects, such as an 18th-century French 
decorative panel has been already the foundation of the 
decoration of the walls of three rooms and has enabled one 
student to earn two hundred dollars, another, five hundred, 
and a graduate one thousand dollars. A copy of a 17th- 
century Dutch decorative flower piece, founded a business of 
over five thousand dollars annually, and this same painting 
is copied nearly every day. Portions of it are to be seen 
in many present-day decorative schemes, and it is extraor- 
dinary how much it constantly adds to other people's in- 
comes. An 18th-century Venetian bedroom set has been 
copied over thirty times at a cost of one thousand dollars 
a set. Each copy sells for between twelve and fifteen hun- 
dred dollars, which means a gross profit of between thirty- 
six and forty-five thousand dollars. It means a handsome 
profit to the various decorators, and a daily wage to artisans 
varying from two dollars and a half to five dollars. 

In reckoning our gains, most of us are pleased with an 
income of ten per cent. Museums need only be charged 
with free gifts, since the cost may be set aside to the original 
donor; so, assuming the profits on this set of furniture to 
have been at the least, ten thousand dollars, it would make, 
on what was originally a free gift, a percentage of profit 
among the trillions. Individual profits of ten per cent, are 
put to the blush and the "cold tomb of the Museum," so 
despised by de Goncourt, becomes a living source of artistic 
supply and a fountain of wealth for the community. 

This Museum was formed to facilitate the free acquisi- 
tion of knowledge in the arts, styles and periods. Its prac- 
tical relation to the artistic trades is a "First Aid to the 

r 21 1 



Ignorant," and many people who visit Museums show such 
queer elementary forms of ignorance that dealing with them 
becomes a picture puzzle indeed. Expressions which display 
a pathetic want of the first principles of knowledge are fre- 
quently overheard, such as: "Fifteenth century," "I wonder 
how old that is?" or "What does 15th century mean?" Few 
realize it means the period of years between 1400 and 1500, 
nor that it means the object is between five and six hundred 
years old. Frequently a date is asked, and some salient his- 
torical fact should place the information clearly. If the 
object be Roman, and Julius Caesar mentioned to place date 
and country, or some object of the French Renaissance by 
the Massacre of the Huguenots, a breathless pause ensues after 
the next question, "What is Julius Caesar?" or "the Mas- 
sacre of the Huguenots?" So even the theory of labelling 
had to be revised and reduced to the primary elements. First 
the period, we might choose the "17th century," then in 
brackets (1600 to 1700 A. D., three to four hundred years 
old) . Possibly Anno Domini should also be explained, 
but that would take space and complicate the label. Then 
the country, as France, with the name and dates of the ruler; 
then the name and dates of the designer and workman, if 
known; the material the object is made of. Should it be a 
chair, the component parts are mentioned alphabetically, as 
Arms, Back, Cover, Legs, Seat. So the intricacies of the 
design can be simply explained. People are apt to look 
vaguely and seem unable to observe, no matter how much 
they wish to learn; if the label is read and a parrot or musi- 
cal instrument mentioned, interest is awakened, a point of 
departure found and some recollection of the complete design 
will be carried away. The end of the label contains the 
Titles and Authors of the reference books, the numbers of 
the chapters and pages, and full quotations, so no books 
need be asked for from the library, a blessed relief to both 
student and librarian. 

[22] 



As Peter Cooper, the philanthropist, placed upon the 
seal of the Cooper Union with the professional pride of a 
Master Workman, this simple and touching device, "Founded 
by a Mechanic of New York," so his granddaughters hope 
the seal of the Museum may some day bear the inscription, 
"Founded by Hereditary Workers in the Same Tradition." 

ELEANOR G. HEWITT. 



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